This building, Sydney’s secular cathedral, is important to all of us who live in Sydney.

It is also of significance to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, whose land it sits on and whose elders we all join in acknowledging and celebrating tonight.

This room was the venue for Australia’s first Koori Debutante Ball in 1968, with Prime Minister Gorton in attendance.

But more importantly, many land rights protests and other protests for rights that should have been a given have been conducted within these walls and on the steps over the last 50 years.  Protests which have seen progress, too slow, but progress nonetheless.

Congratulations to Lord Mayor Clover Moore for hosting the “City Talks” program.

A vibrant, sophisticated city like Sydney needs a vibrant and sophisticated debate.

And City Talks has become an important part of that debate. 

And there’s nothing more important for me to talk to you about tonight, as part of that debate, than energy and climate change and our drive to become a renewable energy superpower.

Now, in the week after the Budget, I would normally talk to you about what is in the Budget in my portfolio.

And, to be fair, there would be plenty to discuss.

Our allocation of $20 billion to the Rewiring the Nation Fund to bring on more renewables, the $2 billion in the Powering the Regions Fund to finance our energy producing regions in the drive towards job creating decarbonisation, the quarter of a billion dollars in our community battery fund - and more.

But I’m going to work on the basis that you have all read the budget papers (I know Patricia has), and I am going to talk about something even bigger.

That is, the current energy crisis around the world and what it means for our climate change policy and our national debate on climate change.

The world is in the grips of the biggest energy shock since the 1970s.

Every government around the world is dealing with energy prices spiking and spiking quickly.

The Budget was honest about what this means for Australia.

Hence the numbers in the Budget were clear: a 20% increase in electricity prices in 2022 which has already occurred and a further increase of 30% next year, absent Government policy.

Of course, as the Prime Minister, Treasurer, Industry Minister, Resources Minister and I have all made clear: Government policy will not be absent. Because Australian businesses and households can’t afford for us to be absent.

But I want to focus on the deeper issue tonight.

Because some would see, indeed some would relish, the chance for this crisis to delay or avoid the need to decarbonise and drive towards renewables.

I’ll be frank: these are the same people who have moved from excuse to excuse, alibi to alibi, to avoid climate action, and have denied Australia the benefits of taking real action on climate over the last decade.

This is not intended to be an overly partisan talk tonight.  But it will be a very frank one. And I will call it as I see it.  Please excuse the strength of my language, because I feel this is a time for very plain language.

So let me be clear.

This energy crisis has not been caused by renewable energy here, in Europe or anywhere else.

This energy crisis has been caused by just a few factors, namely: 

  • The immoral invasion of Ukraine.
  • Over-reliance in Europe on one type of energy, namely gas from Russia

And, in Australia -

  • Ten years of policy indolence which saw our transition to renewables happen too slowly and in too disorderly a fashion, with four gigawatts of dispatchable power generation leave our grid over ten years and only one gigawatt come on to replace it, leaving us shamefully exposed to a fragile market. 

I have a couple of key messages tonight, namely:

  • We cannot let, and the Government will not let, the current crisis interrupt our drive towards cleaner, cheaper, renewable energy.

This transition is even more important.  Not only for reasons of climate, as compelling as those reasons are. But also because renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy, which is rather handy in an affordability crisis.

And because, with proper storage and firming, it is reliable energy.  No geo-political crisis can interrupt the flow of sunlight to our land or the blowing of the wind on and off our shores.

Now, I raise this strongly because we need to be vigilant in the climate debate.

Whilst the May election was a big step forward in ending the climate wars, and resulted in the election of a government with a strong climate agenda and a progressive majority in both chambers, we should not pretend that there are no voices seeking to take us backwards, and they must be countered if we are to ensure the progress we are making is cemented in.

There is an almost daily drip feed of editorials and opinion pieces from the usual suspects, full of disinformation.

Just one example. I’m not going to do the author the favour of naming them, but one prominent right-wing commentator took to her regular spot in a prominent Sydney newspaper this week to opine that:

“There is only one reason why power prices are skyrocketing. It’s because we are replacing reliable 24/7 power provided by fossil fuels with unreliable wind and solar power that needs expensive back up power for the 70% of the time the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.” 

It’s as if renewables haven’t been repeatedly established as the cheapest form of energy.  This commentator claims that the renewables need to be backed up with an expensive form of energy.  Presumably she means more expensive coal and gas, which rather undermines the point.

The crystal-clear fact is: even taking into account the need for transmission and storage to firm renewables, renewable energy is by far the cheapest form of energy available.

The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, has put the alternative, and better-informed view, well: 
“…there is a mistaken idea that this is somehow a clean energy crisis. That is simply not true. The world is struggling with too little clean energy, not too much. Faster clean energy transitions would have helped to moderate the impact of this crisis, and they represent the best way out of it. When people misleadingly blame climate and clean energy for today’s crisis, what they are doing – whether they mean to or not – is shifting attention away from the real cause: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine."

Far from undermining the need to transition to renewables, the energy crisis underlines the need for a faster and more orderly transition, wherein we manage the changes in coal and gas generation by concerted efforts to expand renewable generation and storage.

As well as the rear-guard attempt to undermine and deny the transition to renewables, the current energy crisis has energised the proponents of nuclear energy in Australia.

This is just the latest attempt to delay the shift to renewable energy.

What this represents is the third quiver in the armoury of those who don’t want to see Australia take action on climate change. They accompany delay and denial with distraction.

Nuclear energy is by far the most expensive form of energy.  It would be more expensive in Australia than other countries because we don’t have a nuclear industry, and starting an industry from scratch is an expensive operation.

The alleged “small modular reactors” being built around the world are a myth.

It is not a technology that’s fully developed, and no plants are proven to be commercially viable.

SMR stands for Small Modular Reactor. It also stands for: Someday, maybe, reality.

In the United States, only one SMR has received design approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

This is a proposal for Utah.

The verdict of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis on this proposal?

It is, and I quote: 

“Too late, too expensive, too risky and too uncertain.”

As the Institute notes, it isn’t just that the nuclear project has experienced cost and time blowouts, it’s that comparator technologies – such as wind and solar, coupled with battery storage – are available, effective and cheaper.

This echoes the Australian GenCost report which is a collaboration of CSIRO and the Australian Energy Market Operator, and which found renewables are cheaper and much quicker to deploy.

So we have a proven technology, at low cost, with global momentum and investment desire – why is nuclear even being proposed?

The answer is, it is simply the latest attempted distraction in an attempt to delay the drive for renewables.

Because friends, despite the enormous progress we have made this year, with the election of a new government and the passage of our Climate Act, there are still those in Parliament that will wreck progress at their first opportunity.

And they have influence in the alternative government. Just like you have read all the budget papers, I’m sure you have read the Hansard of the debate on the Government’s Climate Bill.

On the off chance you missed some of the debate, there was plenty of climate denial in the contributions of Opposition Members.

Let’s take one, a Queensland LNP Senator, Gerard Rennick who said in the debate:

“If you want to talk about science and the science of climate change, I say there's no such thing. It's the science of heat you need to focus on. It has been based on false lies for far too long, and I will continue to fight this to the day I die.

Or take the twitter feed of the Deputy Leader of the National Party in the Senate, Matt Canavan, whose public utterances are a cavalcade of alternating climate denial accompanied by the undermining of vaccine science.

Friends, I don’t raise these examples for any other reason but to remind you that while our climate debate has taken massive strides forward this year, there are plenty of elements in our politics and in our media who relish the opportunity to set our important national course back. We cannot let them.

In 2007, a Labor Government was elected with a strong climate agenda.

The Liberal Party took an emissions trading scheme to that election.

It was widely thought that we had reached a national consensus on climate change.

It wasn’t to be. 

Fifteen years later, we took the approach in the election of emphasising that action on climate change is not just an international and inter-generational obligation.

Action on climate change is in our national interest. More sunlight hits our land than any other country in the world. We are rich in strong wind resources as well. Whether you prefer the term “renewable energy superpower”, “Renewable energy export powerhouse” or “Saudi Arabia of renewable energy”, take your pick. They are all suitable, they are all accurate when it comes to our potential as a nation.

I’m pleased with the progress of the new Government  passing the first Climate Change Act in a decade which sends the message to the world’s renewable investors that Australia has a stable policy environment open for business, enshrining emissions reductions in the National Energy Objectives for the first time, making a breakthrough investment in the Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation projects which will see Tasmania reach 200% renewables and become an even more supplier of renewables to the mainland  and more.

I’m pleased, but not satisfied. Because there is so much more to do.

Australia has unparalleled potential as a renewable energy powerhouse.

But we are also the developed country with the most to lose from climate change.

I opened tonight by talking about the importance of this building, this room.

In this room, my Party and our country said goodbye to Gough Whitlam and Neville Wran.

They steered us towards a new direction, tackling issues that had been delayed and denied, over-coming the nay-sayers and dealing with the challenges of their day.

They would be wishing us well as we embark on this new, urgent national task.

The national task of restoring Australia to climate leadership, creating renewable energy and the jobs and investment that goes with it.

The task that falls to a new government, a new generation.  And a task we approach with relish and enthusiasm.